Interview with Aspyr’s Executive Producer Blaine Christine
Aspyr’s Executive Producer Blaine Christine spends many hours with Gothic 3. He sat down with us to talk about his favorite parts of the upcoming title.
Much like David Hasselhoff, the Gothic RPG franchise is a massive success in Germany. Tell us a little about Gothic 3, the history of the franchise and what North American gamers can expect from this title.
The Gothic series is HUGE in Germany. The fan base for this game is similar to what you see at Quakecon here in the US. Rabid, screaming fans have been clamoring for this game ever since the first one was released in 2001. Piranha Bytes (the developer) are like the “id” of Germany. The fans follow them everywhere and each game is very eagerly anticipated. What’s all the hubbub about? Well, think of Gothic 3 as the single-player equivalent of an MMORPG. It is a sandbox RPG where the player’s actions have a very direct and noticeable impact on the world. You truly play the game the way you want to play it—you develop the character the way that you want to, you take whatever missions you want to take (or none at all), and you explore the world to find new, exciting, breath-taking experiences. For Gothic 3, players are in for a truly epic experience. The all new graphics engine makes the game drop-dead gorgeous, the revamped fighting makes combat exciting and strategic, and the enhanced AI makes the world come alive more than you would think possible from a single player RPG experience.
What did you and your team do to ensure a great Gothic 3 experience for gamers in the US?
One significant difference gamers will see (and hear) in Gothic 3 is the effort we’ve put in to make sure to “Americanize” the content as much as possible. The first two games in the series really felt like German games shoehorned to fit an American box. We’ve worked very closely with our partners at Jowood and Piranha Bytes to ensure that the translation was as good as it could possibly be. Additionally, for the third installment of the series we used a top notch casting director and LA studio to ensure that the voice acting is on par with other AAA games on the market in the US. The end result is a game that was developed in Germany, but does not feel “ported” in any way, shape or form.
Can you elaborate a bit on the world of Gothic 3? What will gamers find once they enter the land of Myrtana?
For Gothic 3, the developers have expanded the gameplay world to over three times the size of Gothic 2. The first two games took place on the island of Khorinis and Gothic 3 is the first time players get to explore the larger world of Myrtana and the mainland. The world is divided into three distinct geographies. The northernmost region, Nordmar, is the home of the barbarians and frozen wastelands based on Nordic geography. The middle realm is forested, hilly terrain with lush vegetation where large castles dot the landscape and the human resistance fiercely fights the Orc oppressors. The southern reaches are home to the formidable Hashishin, a desert-dwelling people who have adapted to the harsh climate and serve as mercenaries who ultimately serve their own ends. All-in-all, it is a very impressive mix of look and feel that keeps the player interested in his surroundings and constantly discovering new, exciting areas to adventure in.
A major part of any RPG is its fighting system. What is combat like in Gothic 3?
Combat is easy to learn, but difficult to master. The Gothic series defaults to a third person perspective so the player can easily fight multiple enemies at once without losing track of who is attacking from where. The WASD keys control character movement while each mouse button (left and right) is a different type of attack. Combining mouse button clicks in different orders results in different combination attacks and holding the right mouse button activates the block function and special attacks. Naturally different weapon types have different attacks and combos as well. All in all, it’s a very intuitive and fun fighting system.
In addition to all of that, there is of course magic use and long range weapons as well. My personal favorite is the bow because you can quickly make an Orc into a hedgehog because you see the arrows stick (and stay) wherever you shoot them! Sweet!
So what if a player doesn’t want to play a pure combat character? Are there options to be a magic user, thief or other type of character?
Absolutely. A hallmark of the Gothic series is the open class system which allows players to develop any type of character they desire. As you earn experience from killing monsters and enemies, you gain learning points that can be spent at trainers in the game world (NPCs that you interact with). The player can choose to spend these points on a wide variety of skills including thievery, magic use, archery, combat, stealth, or even increasing their basic attributes. It’s completely up to the player and how they want to train their character in the sandbox of Gothic 3.
What type of spells and special skills will there be in the game for players who want to dabble or specialize in areas such as stealth and magic?
As mentioned above, the player can tailor their character to be whatever they so desire, including magic use and stealth. A completely new feature for Gothic 3 is the “perk system” which rewards the player for improving their skillset to a certain level of proficiency. Examples of perks include: Dual Wielding (using two swords at once), Silent Hunter (animals won’t detect the player when he’s sneaking), and Orc Hunter (doubles the damage done to Orcs when using long range weapons).
As far as magic is concerned, we have a very wide range of spells divided into three categories. Some examples of the cooler spells are Ice Lance (does damage to an enemy and has a chance of freezing them in place), Summon Demon (need I say more?), and Flame Sword (summons a flaming sword to be used for melee attacks).
It’s been mentioned that the game world is a living, breathing world. What does that mean?
Gothic pioneered the idea of NPCs that react realistically to the player and the world around them with the first game in the series. Other games claim to have realistic AI that responds in a natural way to a player’s actions, but few deliver on the promise as well as Gothic 3. Don’t get me wrong—of course this requires a large amount of scripting by the designers, so it is not like you have HAL 9000 on your hands, but the action and reaction system for Gothic is very sophisticated. As an example, in Gothic 3 you can choose to support one of three factions throughout your adventures. If you choose to support the human resistance fighting against the Orcs, you may decide to take on missions which have you fighting to clear the Orcs from an occupied city. Once you clear out the Orcs, the human resistance elements will move into the town from their encampments that were out in the wilderness before. Add this level of interaction to the individual schedule that each NPC performs on a daily basis and you truly feel as if the world around you is alive.
So the NPC’s in the game have their own schedule and react in real time?
Indeed. A shopkeeper will open his shop in the morning, clean the steps outside using a broom, see to the needs of his customers, go to the local tavern for a drink after work, then head off to bed late at night. One of the great things about the Gothic games is wandering around the towns to see what types of behaviors the AI is performing. It’s a constantly changing, dynamic world. If you pull out a weapon in the middle of the town square, the guards will draw their weapons and tell you to put the weapon away while slaves may run away in fear. This is the type of thing that the developers started with Gothic and have continued to refine with each iteration of the series.
Speaking of the developers, North American gamers are probably not familiar with the guys who are making this game.
Piranha Bytes is a very unique game studio. Today’s game development teams can sometimes exceed 100 people or more for a game of the size and scope of Gothic 3, but the PB team has been at less than 20 for the majority of the development cycle. After visiting the team in Essen, Germany I can see why they are able to work so well with so few people—their studio is actually a small house where some of the team actually lives. In such a small, comfortable environment, there is an incredible feeling of community and you can sense the creative energy flowing through every room of the house. It’s really a very special environment they created and you can tell they truly love what they’re doing.
Finally, since you’ve actually been playing the game, what is your favorite aspect of the gameplay thus far, and what are you looking forward to most in the final build?
My favorite aspect of the gameplay is simply exploring the beautiful world that the team has created. We’re at a really exciting stage of development now where everything is coming together quickly, so each build brings new surprises as the world is populated with new locations, new creatures, and fantastic new spell effects. For the final build, I am really looking forward to playing my way through a complete, balanced game without stressing about schedules or giving feedback—just pure RPG goodness for many enjoyable hours.
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